COVID origins report says it’s ‘plausible’ virus leaked from Wuhan lab

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WASHINGTON — An unclassified summary of the US intelligence community report on COVID-19 origins says it’s “plausible” the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, and that it might be genetically engineered — but that investigators remain “divided.”

The report was requested by President Joe Biden in May and it does not reach a conclusion on whether or not the pandemic began at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“After examining all available intelligence reporting and other information… the IC remains divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19,” says the report summary, which was released on Friday afternoon.

“All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.”

One spy agency “assesses with moderate confidence that the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2 most likely was the result of a laboratory-associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” the summary says.

“These analysts give weight to the inherently risky nature of work on
coronaviruses.”

There was also uncertainty on whether it was genetically engineered.

“Most agencies also assess with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 probably was not genetically engineered; however, two agencies believe there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way,” the document says.

The two-page document does not say which US spy agencies contributed analysis, but the review was expected to include the CIA and the National Security Agency, among others.

The assessment says four US spy agencies lean toward the theory that the virus emerged naturally in animals, but that they only have “low confidence” in that theory.

Three other intelligence agencies “remain unable to coalesce around either explanation
without additional information, with some analysts favoring natural origin, others a
laboratory origin, and some seeing the hypotheses as equally likely.”

The report summary says that it’s possible an answer never will be determined due to the fact that China “continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States.”

The spy agencies assert that “[t]hese actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China.”

Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, known as China’s “batwoman”, works with other researchers in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology on February 23, 2017.
AP
Chinese government officials have repeatedly denied that coronavirus could have possibly leaked from its lab in Wuhan.
Chinese government officials have repeatedly denied that coronavirus could have possibly leaked from its lab in Wuhan.
EPA

The agencies concluded that “the virus was not developed as a biological weapon.”

Although not ruling out a lab leak, the assessment says that spy agencies believe that “China’s officials did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged.”

The agencies believe “they will be unable to provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of COVID-19 unless new information allows them to determine the specific pathway for initial natural contact with an animal or to determine that a laboratory in Wuhan was handling SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor virus before COVID-19 emerged,” the document says.

The intelligence community and scientists don’t have “clinical samples or a complete
understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest COVID-19 cases,” the summary said.

“If we obtain information on the earliest cases that identified a location of interest or
occupational exposure, it may alter our evaluation of hypotheses.”

The document says that “China’s cooperation most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing this week that the Biden administration doesn’t have “anything to preview” on steps to pressure China into being transparent on COVID-19 origins.

A security official moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team visit on February 3, 2021.
A security official moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team visit on February 3, 2021.
AP

The Biden White House initially resisted pursuing a US review of pandemic origins, instead deferring to the World Health Organization. But in May the president ordered the 90-day spy agency review after the Wall Street Journal reported that three workers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalized in November 2019 ahead of public confirmation of the outbreak.

An initial WHO probe that was controlled by China concluded in March that the virus likely emerged naturally from animals — but the findings drew bipartisan scorn and broad skepticism.

Psaki said this month that the White House does not support former President Donald Trump’s demand that China pay $10 trillion in reparations for allowing the virus to spread by concealing early data.

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